Botai culture

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Ancient settlement at Botai, discovered in 1980.

The Botai culture is an archaeological culture (c. 3700–3100 BC)[1] of prehistoric northern Central Asia. It was named after the settlement of Botai in today's northern Kazakhstan. The Botai culture has two other large sites: Krasnyi Yar, and Vasilkovka.[2]

The Botai site is on the Iman-Burluk River, a tributary of the Ishim River. The site has at least 153 pithouses. The settlement was partly destroyed by river erosion which is still occurring, and by management of the wooded area.


Illustration of a Botai house structure.

The population of the Botai culture were connected to the earliest evidence for horse husbandry. The settlements of the Botai which consisted of pit-houses were relatively large and permanent. Enormous amounts of horse bones were found in and around the Botai settlements, suggesting that the Botai people kept horses or even domesticated them. Archaeological data suggests that the Botai were sedentary pastoralists and also domesticated dogs.[3]

Some researchers state that horses were domesticated locally by the Botai.[4] It was once thought that most of the horses in evidence were probably the wild species, Equus ferus, hunted with bows, arrows, and spears. However, evidence reported in 2009 for pottery containing mare's milk and of horse bones with telltale signs of being bred after domestication have demonstrated a much stronger case for the Botai culture as a major user of domestic horses by about 3,500 BC, close to 1,000 years earlier than the previous scientific consensus. Botai horses were primarily ancestors of Przewalski's horses, and contributed 2.7% ancestry to modern domestic horses. Thus, modern horses may have been domesticated in other centers of origin.[5]

The pottery of the culture had simple shapes, most examples being gray in color and unglazed. The decorations are geometric, including hatched triangles and rhombi as well as step motifs. Punctates and circles were also used as decorative motifs.[6]

Current research is being conducted by Alan Outram of Exeter University in association with other institutes, the Bristol (UK), Winchester (UK), and Kokshetau (Kazakhstan) universities, and the Carnegie Museum. Along with students, Outram conducted a magnetometer survey of the Botai site in 2008, and is looking into conducting further research into the Botai culture's role into the development of horse domestication.[4]

Language reconstruction[edit]

Asko Parpola suggests that the language of the Botai culture cannot be conclusively identified with any known language or language family.[7] He suggests that the Proto-Ugric word *lox for "horse" is a borrowing from the language of the Botai culture.[a][8] However, Vladimir Napolskikh believes that it comes from Proto-Tocharian *l(ə)wa ("prey; livestock").[9]

Václav Blažek suggests that the Botai people probably spoke a form of Yeniseian languages. Linguistic data lends some support for a homeland of Yeniseian within the Central Asian Steppe, prior to its migration into Siberia. This Yeniseian/Botai language contributed some loanwords related to horsemanship and pastoralism, such as the word for horse (Yeniseian *ʔɨʔχ-kuʔs "stallion" and Indo-European *H₁ek̂wos "domesticated horse") itself, towards proto-Indo-European.[10]


Damgaard et al. (2018) and Jeong et al. (2019) extracted aDNA from five different Botai individuals. Four of them turned out to be male, and another one was female. Two of the samples were taken from crania curated in Petropavlovsk Museum, denoted as "Botai Excavation 14, 1983" and "Botai excavation 15".[11]

Autosomally, the Botai population turned out to derived most of their ancestry from a deeply European-related population known as Ancient North Eurasians (short ANE), while also displaying some "Ancient East Asian" (AEA) admixture. A model by Damgaard et al. suggests that the Botai people diverged from the ancestors of the Yamnaya culture about 15,000 years ago, while the admixture event between ANE-related ancestry and AEA-related ancestry was estimated to about 7,000 years ago. The Botai samples could be modeled as approximately ≈75% ANE (West-Eurasian) and ≈25% AEA (East Asian). The East Asian component is most enriched in modern-day Nganasans and Yakuts, and seems to have been introduced into the region through geneflow from Eastern Siberia.[12][13]

Botai 14, dated to 3517-3108 cal BC, carried a derived allele at R1b1a1-M478, that occurs almost exclusively among Indo-European derived populations surrounding the Altai region. Botai 15, dated to 3343-3026 cal BC, belonged to a branch of the haplogroup N-M231 (N2a-P189.2* according to YFull[14]). Regarding mitochondrial DNA, the Copper Age Botai sample BOT2016 belonged to the haplogroup Z1a, Botai 15 - to R1b1, and Botai 14 - to K1b2.[11]

Two more Botai individuals were tested in September 2015. One sample belonged to the mitochondrial DNA haplogroup K1b2 and the paternal Haplogroup O-M268 (with the 97.1% probability).[15]


  1. ^ The Proto-Ugric word *lox is reconstructed from Hungarian , Mansi , and Khanty law, all meaning "horse". The word is neither of Uralic nor Indo-European origin, nor does it resemble any of the words for "horse" in known Eurasian language families.[7]


  1. ^ Mair, Victor H.; Hickman, Jane (8 September 2014). Reconfiguring the Silk Road: New Research on East-West Exchange in Antiquity. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 15. ISBN 978-1934536698. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  2. ^ Olsen, Sandra; Bradley, Bruce; Maki, David; Outram, Alan (2006). "Community organisation among Copper Age sedentary horse pastoralists of Kazakhstan". In Peterson, D. L. L.M.; Popova, L. M.; Smith, A. T. (eds.). Beyond the Steppe and the Sown: proceedings of the 2002 University of Chicago Conference on Eurasian Archaeology (PDF). Colloquia Pontica #13. Leiden: Brill. pp. 89–111. ISBN 978-90-04-14610-5.
  3. ^ Olsen, Sandra (27 June 2014). "The Early Horse Herders of Botai". KU Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum. Archived from the original on 2015-05-01. Retrieved 2021-09-16.
  4. ^ a b Outram, Alan K.; et al. (6 March 2009), "The Earliest Horse Harnessing and Milking", Science, 323 (5919): 1332–1335, Bibcode:2009Sci...323.1332O, doi:10.1126/science.1168594, PMID 19265018, S2CID 5126719
  5. ^ Gaunitz C, Fages A, Hanghøj K, Albrechtsen A, Khan N, Schubert M, et al. (6 April 2018). "Ancient genomes revisit the ancestry of domestic and Przewalski's horses". Science Magazine. 360 (6384): 111–114.
  6. ^ "Carnegie Museum of Natural History: Sandra Olsen". Archived from the original on 28 January 2012. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
  7. ^ a b Parpola, Asko (1 November 2020). "The problem of Samoyed origins in the light of archaeology: On the formation and dispersal of East Uralic (Proto-Ugro-Samoyed)" (PDF). In Hyytiäinen, Tiina; Jalava, Lotta; Saarikivi, Janne; Sandman, Erika (eds.). Per Urales ad Orientem. Iter polyphonicum multilingue. Festskrift tillägnad Juha Janhunen på hans sextioårsdag den 12 februari 2012. Mémoires de la Société Finno-Ougrienne. Vol. 264. Helsinki: Finno-Ugrian Society. pp. 295–296. ISBN 978-952-5667-33-2. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
  8. ^ "Uralic Etymological Database".
  9. ^ Napolskikh, Vladimir (1996). "Происхождение угорского названия лошади". Linguistica Uralica (in Russian). 32 (2): 116–118. Retrieved 17 September 2020.
  10. ^ Václav Blažek 2019, Perspective of the Yeniseian homeland. Quote: The preceding arguments lead to the conclusion that Yeniseians still lived in the steppe region of Central Asia including Kazakhstan in the first centuries of CE and certainly earlier. Northern Kazakhstan, namely the area of the Botai43 culture, was probably the place where the wild horse (Przewalsky-horse, i.e. Equus ferus przevalskii Poljakoff) was already in the mid 4th mill. BCE domesticated (cf. Bökönyi 1994: 116; Becker 1994: 169; Anthony 1994: 194; Outram 2009: 1332-35). The creators of this culture were totally specialized in breeding of horses (133.000 horse bones were found here already in the early 1990s!). The proximity of the Yeniseian *ʔɨʔχ-kuʔs "stallion" and Indo-European *H1ek̂u̯os "(domesticated) horse" is apparent and explainable through borrowing. If the Indo-European term cannot be transparently derived from IE *ōk̂u- "swift" = *HoHk̂u-, while the Yeniseian compound "stallion" = "male-horse" is quite understandable, the vector of borrowing should be oriented from Yeniseian to Indo-European.
  11. ^ a b "The first horse herders and the impact of early Bronze Age steppe expansions into Asia". Science Magazine. Supplementary Materials. 8 May 2018.
  12. ^ Damgaard, Peter de Barros; Martiniano, Rui; Kamm, Jack; Moreno-Mayar, J. Víctor; Kroonen, Guus; Peyrot, Michaël; Barjamovic, Gojko; Rasmussen, Simon; Zacho, Claus; Baimukhanov, Nurbol; Zaibert, Victor (2018-06-29). "The first horse herders and the impact of early Bronze Age steppe expansions into Asia". Science. 360 (6396): eaar7711. doi:10.1126/science.aar7711. PMC 6748862. PMID 29743352.
  13. ^ Jeong, Choongwon; Balanovsky, Oleg; Lukianova, Elena; Kahbatkyzy, Nurzhibek; Flegontov, Pavel; Zaporozhchenko, Valery; Immel, Alexander; Wang, Chuan-Chao; Ixan, Olzhas; Khussainova, Elmira; Bekmanov, Bakhytzhan (June 2019). "The genetic history of admixture across inner Eurasia". Nature Ecology & Evolution. 3 (6): 966–976. doi:10.1038/s41559-019-0878-2. ISSN 2397-334X. PMC 6542712. PMID 31036896. The Uralic- and Yeniseian-speaking populations, as well as Russians from multiple locations, derive most of their Eastern Eurasian ancestry from a component most enriched in Nganasans, while Turkic/Mongolic speakers have this component together with another component most enriched in populations from the Russian Far East, such as Ulchi and Nivkh (Supplementary Fig. 3).
  14. ^ N-P189.2 YTree
  15. ^ Изучение этногенетической истории населения Казахстана [Study of the ethnogenetic history of the population of Kazakhstan] (PDF). Первые результаты работы Лаборатории популяционной генетики [The first results of the work of the Laboratory of Population Genetics] (in Russian). Institute of General Genetics and Cytology, Ministry of Education, Republic of Kazakhstan.

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